8 Reasons Caution is Needed To Chat With Strangers Online
There are many reasons people are drawn to online communication. For instance, some people find non-verbal communication less intimidating than in-person communication, while others seek connection with like-minded people, and some enjoy the potential mental health benefits of talking to strangers. Virtual platforms can provide meaningful ways to connect with others, but there are good reasons to be cautious when meeting strangers online.
Online friendships are common, with one survey finding that that 76% of United States residents surveyed met a friend online that they hadn’t met in person, and 62% saying they had at least 5 online friends. While these friendships can be legitimate and fulfilling, the anonymity of online relationships can expose you to potential risks. Here are 8 reasons to stay cautious, as well as tips to protect yourself when chatting online.
Identity Theft Exists
People with nefarious intent can use information gleaned from your social media profiles or messages for their benefit. Take steps to protect yourself by managing your privacy settings, establishing two-step verification and anti-virus programs, using unique passwords, and avoiding sharing personal information online (such as your full legal name, passwords, birthday, make and model of your car, address, the name of your school or job title, or your banking information).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation runs a page dedicated to online safety. They offer additional recommendations, including avoiding public internet whenever possible, avoiding airport and hotel charging stations, and not clicking on unsolicited links.
Be Aware Of Catfishing
Anyone can be catfished (lured into a relationship with a stranger through deception). If someone does not want to videochat, talk over the phone, or meet in person, it may be a sign that they are not the person they say they are. Some other signs of catfishing include:
Refusing to meet in person, or agreeing to meet and then canceling plans
Few photos of themselves
Refusing to talk on the phone or videochat
Asking for money
Feelings for you develop quickly
Soliciting information about you
The tell you stories that don’t line up or make sense
They have very few friends on social media
If you believe you may have been catfished, you may want to conduct a reverse image search on their photos to see if their photos are used by other accounts. Then, block and report accounts that are impersonating others.
Know The Signs Of Grooming
Online grooming occurs when someone builds a trusting relationship with a minor or young adult to manipulate and exploit them. They may lie about things like their age, location, background, or appearance. Sometimes, groomers may use photos and/or videos of people other than themselves to gain trust. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, the following tactics are commonly used by groomers:
Buying or offering gifts
Pretending to be younger than they are
Giving advice, or acting understanding to build trust or solicit more information
Trying to keep your discussions secret
Asking for inappropriate images
Trying to meet in person
Isolating from family
Grooming is a type of abuse, and people who experience it are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-harm, and difficulty concentrating on daily activities. If you experience grooming, you may experience conflicting emotions. You are not alone, and therapy may be a helpful option.
It’s Easy To Share Too Much Information
Many people share information on social media, such as geo-tagged photos, check-ins on vacation, photos at the airport, or posts including valuable belongings. Hashtags like #airport or #onvacation are sometimes used by burglars to find your address and determine when you’re out of town. Other posts, such as photos depicting the layout of your home or your address, can also aid burglars.
There are several ways to protect yourself, including setting your social media accounts to private, declining friend requests from people you do not know, limiting the use of geo-tags, and posting photos after travel (rather than during). If you are messaging with someone, avoid telling them where you are located.
According to research published in 2021, cyberbullying poses a serious public health threat for young people. The researchers found that the anonymity of the internet may make cyberbullying more harmful that traditional bullying, leading to higher levels of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, school absence, and suicidal ideation.
Watch For Misinformation
Rumors, conspiracy theories, and misinformation are often spread online. The World Economic Forum reports that misinformation online is a major threat to human societies, and research finds that once misinformation successfully triggers false beliefs, they are resistant to change. Chatting online with strangers may put you at risk of exposure to misinformation, which can lead to radicalization and poor mental and physical health outcomes. Examine profile photos, friend lists, and their public content to help you determine whether an account is legitimate before chatting.
Platforms like Kickstarter, and Indiegogo allow people to create projects and receive donations from others. While these platforms are often used for legitimate purposes, some people may use them to create crowdfunding scams. To lure people into giving money, scammers may message you asking for help, or they may take time to develop a relationship with you before divulging a fake crowdfunding opportunity. If you believe you’ve encountered a crowdfunding scam, you can report it to your Attorney General, and contact the Federal Trade Commission to make a report.
Hackers may attempt to message with you and eventually share a file, photo, video, or link. Forbes Advisor reports that many of these links direct you to fake sites that ask you to enter personal information (such as your password or credit card number), or they may install malware. Never open links you are not expecting, and if you do click a link, take steps to secure your device immediately.
What Can You Do To Stay Safe Online?
Though there are some risks, talking to people online can provide an opportunity to meet new people and build a sense of community. To improve your safety, try to adhere to the following tips:
Don’t share personal information
Set social media accounts to private
Do not click on unsolicited links
Utilize two-step verification
Use unique passwords
Do not share any photos or videos you would like to keep private
Decline friend requests from people you do not know
Leave the conversation if you feel uncomfortable
Ask for help if you need it
Therapy Can Help
There is nothing wrong with enjoying online chatting. However, the potential for nefarious activities should be taken seriously. If you’ve experienced the breach of trust that can come from being misled online, you may be at a higher risk of experiencing trust issues, psychiatric disorders, relationship challenges, self-blame, and school absenteeism.
A 2016 review found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was effective in addressing the symptoms of mild to moderate psychiatric disorders. If you find it easier to connect with people when you’re not physically in the same room, you may prefer online therapy from sites like Regain, over traditional in-person therapy.
Though many people have a positive experience chatting with strangers online, there are some risks. By taking steps to protect your information and learning to recognize red flags, you can improve your safety and experience. If you’ve experienced catfishing, scamming, hacking, or online grooming, you may want to consider reaching out to a therapist to talk about it. Online CBT is shown to effectively improve symptoms of psychiatric disorders for most people, and it’s often less intimidating than in-person therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How can I chat with strangers?
Chatting with strangers is simple! The easiest way to chat with strangers is to put yourself in a space, whether physical or online, where you feel comfortable. It’s also useful to be in a place that is focused on one of your interests or a common goal. For example, it’s a lot easier to meet people and talk to strangers at a small party where you have mutual friends than it is to chat up someone in a bar where you’ve never been before. Or, it’s a lot easier to talk to and meet people that you’re volunteering with than it is to meet people just walking down the street.
The best way to chat with strangers is to put yourself in a context that already focuses on the commonalities that you have with them. It’s also a great way to meet people that will be around more consistently so that you can grow a friendship.
Which is the best app to chat with strangers?
When you’re looking for the best app to chat talk to strangers, you need to first lay out your goals and expectations for the chat. Are you looking for nothing more than friendship in the chat room? Or are you hoping to find a romantic partner when you talk to people online? Are you trying to flirt online with the hopes that it develops into something more? Do you expect the friendship to continue and to meet people outside of the chat room, in the real world?
All of these parameters will help you choose the best app to meet new people and talk to strangers online. When you’re looking for a chat app, you can check the descriptions and reviews. For many people who are looking for a romantic relationship online, different apps cater to different tastes. You can also ask your friends for their own experiences and reviews of the free chat apps and dating apps that they use.
Is it okay to talk to strangers online?
It’s perfectly fine to talk with strangers online, as long as you stick to the common sense safety rules. In fact, chat rooms and social media are great places to discuss your ideas and feelings with new people. It can be a great way to make new friends online who have the same interests as you.
Where can I talk to random strangers?
While you can talk to random strangers anywhere, the internet has a whole host of free random chat rooms. Basically, you sign up for the random chat service, and you get paired with another user. Then, you are free to random chat talk about whatever you want. However, you should be careful when you’re using this type of chat room, since there aren’t many restrictions on who can join, and the premise often attracts people who might have malicious intentions. So, random chat rooms aren’t always safe, but they are a surefire way to meet interesting characters online.
Which is the best online chat?
The best online chat will be different for different people. The best way to find a place to talk to people online is to join a chat room that’s based on one of your interests. This online chat environment is a wonderful way to meet people who have similar interests to you. That way, you’ll automatically have something to chat about!
If you’re looking to flirt online, dating apps are the best bet for you. This way, you can meet people online who are also looking for some romantic involvement.
Why do people talk to strangers online?
There are a lot of different reasons why a person might turn to a chat room or free chat app to talk to strangers online. They might not be able to find a community of people with their beliefs or interests in the places around them, so they’ll turn to a chat room or free chat app to discuss their interests with others around the world. Or, they may be in a transitional time in their life and they want to surround themselves with new people. So, they use a chat room or free chat app to meet new people online before bringing those friendships into the real world.
Whatever the reason, using a chat room or free chat app is a popular way for people to make new friends these days. As long as they’re using common sense and practicing some safety precautions, a chat room or free chat app online is a great way to branch out and expand their social horizons!
What questions can I ask a stranger?
How do I make small talk?
Where can I talk to strangers for free?
How can I talk interesting?
What things can you talk about with a stranger to make yourselves at ease?
What should you not talk about with a stranger?
What are some cautionary tips to help have a safe conversation with a stranger?
What are good conversation starters with a stranger so you won't feel awkward?
Why are most people afraid of talking to strangers?
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